New Delhi. 31 December, 2015. Moving beyond our immediate neighbourhood, the new government energetically engaged with key major powers of the world, with the Prime Minister visiting all P5 countries and aspiring members of the UN Security Council, including Japan and Germany. The sustained and variegated engagement with established and emerging power centres opened new vistas for upgrading these crucial partnerships and sealed India’s stature as a rising global power which is central to sculpting an inclusive global order.
The new government’s diplomatic calendar began with a trailblazing visit by US President Barack Obama to India as the chief guest at the country’s Republic Day celebrations, the first American president to be thus invited. Building upon PM Modi’s visit to the US last year, President Obama’s second trip to India saw India-US relations scale new milestones as the world’s oldest and largest democracies unveiled a transformative all-encompassing agenda in the form of the joint statement entitled “Sanjha Prayas, Sabka Vikas (Shared Effort, Progress for All), which establishes the US as a prime partner in India’s ongoing national resurgence. The breakthrough achieved in implementing the landmark civil nuclear deal was the most visible outcome of the ongoing transformation in India-US ties.The relations saw a marked upswing in diverse areas, spanning enhanced defence cooperation through pathfinder projects for joint production, green energy, development of smart cities and infrastructure. Underscoring their increasing congruence over a host of global and regional issues, India and the US articulated a joint strategic vision for the Asia-Pacific region and the Indian Ocean. Buoyed by increasing optimism about the India Story, the two countries have set a target of multiplying bilateral trade five times to US$ 500 billion.
President Obama’s visit was followed by that of PM Modi to the US in September, making 2015 a unique year in the annals of India-US relations with two-way visits by the leaders of both countries. PM’s second visit to the US was singular in so far as this was the first prime ministerial visit from India to the US’ West coast in nearly 60 years, with PM Modi connecting with the corporate and digital elite of Silicon Valley in California. PM Modi’s meeting with President Obama in New York underlined the changed climate in India-US relations as the two leaders sought to upgrade cooperation across an entire spectrum of issues ranging from climate change and economic ties to counter-terrorism, cyber security and UN Security Council reform. Put together, the two visits minted an emerging template of India-US relations, which will be underpinned by Business, Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (BITE), as “the defining partnership of the 21st century” looks set to cross new milestones in the days to come.
PM’s visit was preceded by the launch of the first-ever India-US Strategic and Commercial Dialogue in Washington DC, which was attended by EAM Sushma Swaraj and Minister of State for Commerce and Industry, Nirmala Sitharaman.
Our relations with Japan were revitalised by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s landmark visit to India in December. The visit reflected the personal rapport PM Modi has forged with PM Abe during the former’s visit to Japan last year. Following wide ranging talks that covered a number of issues, the two sides reached 16 agreements including one on Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy. Of particular significance was Japan’s partnership on India’s economic development through supporting a number of initiatives – the bullet train between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, the Make in India Fund, the ODA assistance for 13 different big projects, dedicated Japan Industrial Townships, the Chennai Bengaluru Industrial Corridor all of which add up to more than $35 billion which the two Prime Ministers had agreed to last year. Defence and security as well as maritime security also were also high priority items for discussion, with an agreement on transfer of defence technology and equipment and regular participation in Malabar. UNSC reform, India’s participation in export control regimes, and India’s membership of APEC were all discussed positively.
Highlighting the civilizational ties between the two nations, and mirroring the PM’s visit to Kyoto last year the PMs visited the city of Varanasi to take forward the ties between the two cities. In a unique ceremony, both the PMs participated in the Ganga Aarti at the Dashashwamedh Ghat in Varanasi. The visit imparted a new resonance to the ‘Special Strategic and Global Partnership’ and envisaged India-Japan relations as critical to the evolving Asian Century.
Our relations with Russia, a time-tested strategic partner, were bolstered by a slew of high-level visits, culminating in the annual summit between PM Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin in December.
PM Modi’s meeting with the Russian president on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in July outlined future areas of cooperation, with special focus on scaling up economic relations, civil nuclear energy partnership and enhanced participation of Russia in the Make in India project.
President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to Russia (May 7-11) to attend the V-day celebrations saw the signing of seven pacts to enhance educational and innovation cooperation between the two countries. This included setting up of a Network of Indian and Russian Universities and an agreement on encouraging young researchers in both countries to work on innovative research projects.
The visit of EAM Sushma Swaraj to Russia (October 19-21) saw the two countries sign the protocol for the 21st session of India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Cooperation (IRIGC-TEC).
In our extended neighbourhood, India’s relations with China acquired a new stability and added economic and strategic content. Building upon the State Visit of President Xi to India in September last year, PM Modi undertook a three-city tour of China, which was unique in many ways. PM’s visit was preceded by that of EAM’s visit to Beijing in February that saw the launch of the ‘Visit India Year’ in China and extensive discussions with the Chinese leadership on a host of bilateral and regional issues.
Blending diplomacy, culture, business and geopolitics, the May 14-16 visit forged a new narrative of “major powers” engagement and placed the burgeoning relations between India and China as central to the realisation of an emerging Asian century. In a rare gesture, Chinese President Xi Jinping welcomed Prime Minister Modi in Xi’an, the first time President Xi hosted a visiting foreign leader in his ancestral province. The renewed vitality in India-China relations was reflected in the signing of 24 agreements in diverse areas, ranging from infrastructure, smart cities and railways to culture, skill development, space and climate change.
Intensifying diplomatic engagement across the spectrum, the two sides decided to hold regular summit meetings and agreed to open new consulates in Chengdu and Chennai. PM Modi’s emphasis on cooperative federalism in the arena of foreign policy was reflected in the launch of the first-of-its kind State/Provincial Leaders’ Forum that will facilitate greater interaction between states and provinces of the two countries.
What set apart the summit-level interaction was the “candour” and “constructive” approach to all outstanding issues, including the decades-long boundary question. Building on China’s pledge of $20 billion investment in India for the next five years, which was unveiled during the Chinese president’s visit to India in September 2014, India and China signed business deals worth $22 billion even as the Chinese leadership assured to bridge the trade deficit by providing more market access to Indian IT and pharma companies. Positioning cultural diplomacy and people-to-people contact at the heart of the expanding India-China partnership, PM Modi announced e-visa facility for Chinese tourists. In cheering news for Indian pilgrims, the two sides signed an agreement that provides an additional route for the annual Mansarovar Yatra through Nathu La Pass in Sikkim, in addition to the existing Lipulekh Pass in Uttarakhand. The visit of the PM was followed up with Home Minister’s visit to China, and visits to India by the Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao and General Fan Changlong, Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission.
Europe: France, Germany and Britain
The Indian government was proactive in stepping up engagement with major European powers. Prime Minister Modi conducted hugely successful visits to France and Germany in April 2015. In France, he focused on seeking French investment in infrastructure, sanitation, waste management, smart cities, Clean Ganga programme, and defence manufacturing. Major decisions were announced with respect to the acquisition of Rafale fighter aircraft by India, and cooperation between NPCIL and AREVA on the Jaitapur Civil Nuclear Plant. Twenty agreements were signed in diverse areas, ranging from civil nuclear energy, defence and space to smart cities, business, tourism and the promotion of cultural heritage. France’s support for Make in India was reflected in a pact on forging cooperation between Indian and French railways for semi-high speed rail link and station renovation and pledges by French defence majors to undertake co-development of high-value weaponry. In a boost for India’s green drive, French companies agreed to support India’s sustainable development with 2 billion Euros investment by French companies.
In Germany, Prime Minister represented India as the Partner Country for the Hannover Messe Business Fair, the largest such exposition in the world, and made a robust pitch to seek German investment and expertise to support the ‘Make in India’ programme, especially in areas like skill development, renewable energy and defence manufacturing. Several far-reaching collaborative projects in diverse areas were discussed, which were crystallised during German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s trip to India (October 4-6). The German leader’s visit saw a landmark joint announcement on setting up a Fast-Track System for clearing investments by German companies in India and a pact to promote cooperation in the field of manufacturing.
India-UK relations moved into a high-growth phase during PM Modi’s maiden visit to the UK (November 12-14) and included many symbolic gestures by Britain that included iconic British monuments being bathed in the colours of the Indian flag, an overnight stay by PM Modi at British Prime Minister David Cameron’s official country retreat, lunch with the Queen of England and the first ever address by an Indian prime minister to the British parliament. The talks in London outlined substantive outcomes that included a bigger role for Britain in India’s plans of national renewal, including Make in India and Smart Cities, reinvigoration of economic ties, enhanced defence and security partnership, a separate joint statement on energy and climate change and a separate statement of intent on partnering in third countries. The signing of a civil nuclear cooperation pact, the decisions to hold PM-level biennial summits and a new Defence and International Security Partnership are set to bring tangible benefits to both countries in days to come. Britain’s support for CCIT and action against anti-India terrorist outfits operating from India’s neighbouring country was significant. Economic ties are set to climb new peaks with the sealing of private sector deals amounting to 9.2 billion pounds, including a£1.3 billion pound investment by Vodafone. The decision to issue rupee bonds to be listed at the London Stock Exchange for financing railway infrastructure, the clean energy package worth 3.2 billion pounds of commercial agreements and the visit by PM Modi to the Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) plant in Solihull were symbolic of the win-win economic partnership.